Making Facebook Work This Year.

I’ve been contemplating the efficacy of facebook for a church (or other organization).  I’d like to take some time this new year to reflect on what seems to work and what doesn’t.

What you see above doesn’t work.  It gives information, you’re right.  It shows what we were doing, at the time, certainly.  There is nothing wrong with sharing information and announcements on facebook, but that can’t be the totality of it…in fact i’m not convinced that facebook is even particularly good at working like a calendar or bulletin, but I think there are ways to do that…I’ll get to that in another post.   What I want to say today: facebook is meant to connect with people on a relational level.  There should seldom be a post that doesn’t share a photo, video or link to an interesting story.

But, just because you have a link or a photo doesn’t mean its good.  Some churches augment their ‘announcement feed’ with links to denominational news stories or, worse yet, stock photos**.  If that is the extent of what we do, then we are doomed.

I want to suggest that developing a successful church facebook page comes with continually developing original content.  There is no other way to do it effectively…

Photos:  Pick up a digital camera or the nearest smart phone and take photos.  Not blurry snapshots and not all of them can be from the back of the room.  Get in close to people and show happy expressions.  OH, and please, get a variety of people.

Get Permission:  It should go without saying, but please take the time to ask permission from adults to use their photos and make a permission slip for photo an video a part of your sunday school registration so that you can easily know which parents are cool with you using their children’s photos and which ones don’t.  Don’t post photos where children’s faces are clearly visible without permission (the exception, for me, is public performances where the photo or video is of a large group from a distance)!

Video:  It can be as simple as an iphone or as complicated as a professional camcorder, but there are middle-of-the-road options for most churches.  Get a digital camcorder with an external mic plug (there are some inexpensive ones).  With an adapter or two from radio shack you can plug the church microphones into your camera and have decent sound if you do an interview.  But, again, don’t just put up anything.  Just because it is video, doesn’t mean it is good.  Just panning across a crowd will cause yawns to form and people will not click your next video.  Sure, pan the crowd and get videos from behind children and adults so that you have some b-roll that you can use without faces…but get some close up videos and pull people out of the room and ask them to tell what is happening; why they chose to come; and what they like about the event / the church.  Remember, we are not reporting just WHAT happened, but who and how it makes us feel.  and then… most computers have a basic video editing program.  open it up and put together a short video.  For the most part (for shots around the church or short interviews): don’t go over 2-3 minutes, in fact, 30 seconds – 1 minute will give you the best results in my experience.

Recommendations:  There is a very under-used section on facebook pages called recommendations.  For a company it is used for customers to ‘recommend’ the company or the product they sell: “I love [restaurant]’s food because it makes me think of home,” “Everytime I walk into this [business] it makes me think of the day I got engaged.”  Companies use this section to connect.  Churches need to start asking people to think about what they love about the church and post it there.  It is called evangelism and this is a very simple yet powerful way to share our feelings about our church in a visible way.  Oh, and don’t be afraid to remove unhelpful recommendations or comments that get put there… and seek out a variety of voices for this section: get your youth and college students involved here.

Insights:  There are a million tutorials for facebook and the most accurate are right in the facebook help section…  spend some time learning about insights.  They are powerful tools that help you understand how your page is being used.  Very basically, the more that people like, share and comment about a post or recommendation…the more others are going to see your church and know that your organization is an active force in the community (that is “Reach”)

Comment, Share, and LIKE:  Talk with your church staff or leaders to set an expectation that they would spend some time on the page and encourage them to regularly like, comment and share posts.  Now, here is the thing:  discourage people from liking everything.  Why?  My friends are likely to stop paying attention if something from my church comes up on their feed 5 times a day from me, but when staff and church leaders see something that actually connects with them – they should be sharing it.  When a person sees a variety of postings from your church that many of their facebook friends are connecting with, they may actually pay attention!

Oh, and if you are the page admin, don’t be afraid to share items to other people’s timelines.  For instance, when we had a Cantata I put up a video ‘as the church’ and then shared it to the choir director’s timeline.  If it is an item that especially needs attention, “Like” it yourself or comment on it (as yourself, not the page).

Voice: I can not stress this one enough…  Use the right voice on facebook pages!  There is a blue bar at the very top of the page, if you are the admin.  It will look something like this:

For most posts for major events, youtube videos, etc. I make sure that I am posting, commenting and like as “Normal First UMC,” but the staff and I have been trying to upload some photos short video clips and comments using our own voices…  (just go to the blue bar and click to change to your own “voice”).  In the new facebook timeline they appear in a seperate section that gets less notice on the page, but they don’t have to stay there!  Go to the “recent posts by others” click on “see more” and you’ll see all the personal posts that have gone up.  Click on the X.  It doesn’t delete it (although you could) but it gives you options and one of those options is “allow on page.”  That moves the post by someone else to the main part of the page.  It gives a more personal face to the page and to the church.

Hiding:  One last thing, this season we did advent devotional.  Each day I wanted to put up the most recent devotional as a note, but, I didn’t want 31 notes clogging up the page and making it look…well…boring.  So I put up the next day’s note each evening and “hid” yesterday’s note.  The note wasn’t deleted and people could still comment on them and they were still showing up in people’s feeds, but there weren’t 31 notes in a row on the timeline by now, either.  This is critical to understand: what you see on your page timeline is not the totality of your church’s presence.  Facebook is a complicated mix of timeline, notifications, newsfeeds and ads.  Posts exist even when they are hidden from your timeline and old items can be made new, simply by having people go back and like them (or re-sharing an old photo or video).

A successful page will have annoucements (although usually in the form of “events”), sure, but will have a focus on relationship building and content that is personal (not stock photos or, too often, denomination news links).  If you’d like to see some of things I’m talking about in action, feel free to stop by www.facebook.com/normalfirst.  Our page is far from perfect, but we are moving in the right direction.  I think that the staff are making great strides in how we take our church online and aim to ‘connect’ not just inform.

I hope your new year on facebook will be fruitful for you and your church!

**Hey, we occasionally use stock photos…but I suggest there is usually something better to use, it just takes more effort.

Moving In, Heading Out!

Today I finished setting up the basement / library / office / man cave.  Well, whatever you want to call it, it is the one space in the house that I get to make mine…

That makes three rooms that we’ve opened all the boxes and moved completely in.  Yes, we have a long way to go, but we finally feel like we’ve made progress!  Living Room, check.  Family Room, check.  Library, check.  Luckily June (my mother-in-law) has returned to help Carrie finish the move-in process because I’m heading out to a busy week.  
Before brain surgery I didn’t think much about busy weeks and weekends, but after surgery it is a whole different story!  Moving into the house wouldn’t have been a big deal before surgery, but post-op it felt monumental.  I am leading all three worship services for the first time since my brain surgery…for my last (Farewell) Sunday at the Pontiac church.  My last Sunday in a church would be an exhausting task anyway, but after brain surgery it feels daunting to lead worship, preaching, and greet and talk with people.  Oh, and lest I forget, I volunteered for church camp and leave Sunday afternoon for a full week of being a chaplain.  It will be a recharge and help me get back into the swing of being an active pastor…but holy cow it’s going to wear me out.
Don’t get me wrong.  I’m excited for each and every thing that I’m doing.  This is stuff I love to do!  Oh- and I have plans for resting and taking care of myself, but surgery has sure changed the way I look at my days and weeks.  Every room I unpack, sermon I preach, and kid I hang out with at camp feels like a huge accomplishment (and makes me happy).

It’s getting late and before too many sighs go up into cyberspace, I’ll sign off and go to bed.
Parents, ugh!

Parents are wonderful.  Okay.  I know, I know, if you are a teenager it may not seem like it, right?  I remember that feeling.  As a teen, it is terrible when your parents show up…or don’t show up…look at you wrong…or don’t…or, well, when they speak.  Ugh, how could they be so weird and goofy?

If you are a teenager, am I on the right track?

Let me tell you, at 32 years old I have a different take.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t always have a great relationship with my parents.  Sometimes they get on my nerves and sometimes I get on their last nerve, but, especially this week, I’m SOOO glad they are coming to help me.

First, let me tell you what next week is going to bring for my wife and me.  I have some work and then early in the week we have to go pick up a whole trailer full of stuff in St. Louis and move it to Normal.  Then, on Thursday the movers come (so the house has to be packed and cleaned), We move in and have a half day to unpack and then I have to leave for a wedding rehearsal (fri) and wedding (sat) that I am co-officiating in Pittsfield… then I have to be back Saturday night so I can be rested for my Farewell Sunday at Pontiac… and then Sunday afternoon I start as a chaplain for church camp at East Bay in Hudson, IL.

So I’m thrilled that my mother-in-law is here right now cleaning and helping us pack; my mother and father are coming next week to help us move and then my mother-in-law will be back to stay with carrie and help her pack while I’m at the wedding and camp.

When I was younger I was embarrassed and stressed out by my parents (I still have my moments :-), but as an adult I see blessings in their presence.  It turned out that having parents was actually an asset, who would’ve known?  I am so glad for my parents and my in-laws and all that they do for Carrie and me.  Whether you are young or old, I hope you will, this week, take a moment to think of how your parents are a blessing for your life.  If you are a teenager it may not be easy at first, but there are things your parents do that make your life better, I imagine.  Think really hard about it and you may see that they are a blessing for you!

Title image found at:  http://conflictremedy.com/finding-new-solutions-for-parent-teen-conflict/

Beginnings.
During these first few weeks of Lent, the season as we approach Easter, our Hebrew Scripture readings will be from Genesis.  Last week it was Genesis 9:8-17 and this week it will be Genesis 17:1-7 & 15-16.  For Lent Genesis is a great place to start, but then, Genesis being a great place to start isn’t exactly a new idea is it?  When the Hebrew Scriptures and, later, the Christian Canon was being put together where did they put Genesis, but at the beginning, right?
There is the obvious reason that Genesis is at the beginning of scripture.  It’s about beginnings.  I mean, literally, right at the start, Genesis says, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…”   There is no other single phrase of scripture that would be more apt for the beginning of the Bible, right?  Certainly, Genesis is about beginnings.  Genesis is about the beginnings of the universe, the ordering of the things and people of the universe, and, as we progress through the book, it is about the beginnings of the Hebrew people.
But Genesis isn’t just at the beginning of scripture because it talks about beginnings.  Gosh, John starts off talking about beginnings, right?  If Christians were looking for a first book of the Bible they could have started there, if they were just looking for a landmark text about how things began.  What Genesis does better than any other scripture is to remind us that things began not only with God but that God’s redemptive work didn’t happen in a void.  God’s redemptive and creative work happened in relationship.  No, let me correct myself.  God’s redemptive and creative work happened in relationships.  Do you see the “s” on the end of that word?  God is in relationship with all of the things that were created.  Not just humans, not just butterflies or daffodils.  God creation and more importantly God’s love is universal for all of creation.  By the time we get to the scriptures for this Lent (chs 9 & 17) a shift has occurred. Oh, don’t worry, Genesis never lets go of ‘beginnings’ and ‘creation’ as its theme, but God begins making covenants, that is to say, promises.  So Genesis is about how God  put the universe into motion and created (and ordered) it, but also Genesis is about God’s promises to that creation and God’s faithfulness and love for all of that creation.
So why is Genesis at the beginning of our scriptures?  Why is it perfect for the beginning of Lent?  Why is it where I start when I teach confirmation?  Because God’s life-giving relationship to creation is the foundation of everything else that comes to us in scripture.  Genesis isn’t just at the beginning of the Bible because the fist words are “in the beginning.”  I think Genesis is placed at the beginning of our Biblical Canon because it is foundational to every other scripture in our Bible.  When we hear about a baby in the manger we should be reminded of God’s creation, redemption, and God’s promises.  When we read about Christ upon the cross?  Yup.  We should have in mind that God was at the beginning creating, in the end redeeming, and throughout all of our trials, God’s promises are secure.  When Paul writes his frustrations and successes in his letters?  We can keep in mind that God is at the foundation of his work and God stands with Paul and those churches, and, today, we can keep Genesis at the center of our theology and keep creation and promise at the center of how we respond to the people, things, and world around us.

I guess this what happens when you don’t have a plan, but pick up a video camera and start recording.  This is the video that is going to be used at the Evenglow Bible Study on Tuesday to give residents an update on my recovery and to show them the fruits of their labors as they prayed over my mother last Spring!

It is really great to be back in Pontiac and relaxing at home, but I sure did enjoy my time in Pittsfield with family!

Also, I think we’ll add another video here.  I asked Edwina Wilber, after church, to comment about what makes Pittsfield so great.  I thought you might enjoy her response: